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Unauthorised online streaming of major sporting events, depriving organisers of their legitimate revenues, is ever on the increase. However, as a case in which the High Court came to the aid of a boxing match promoter showed, the law is far from powerless to deal with the problem.
The bouts organised by the promoter that were most popular with boxing fans were televised under an exclusive deal with a broadcaster on a pay-per-view basis. Honest punters paid about £20 to watch a match, but the system was being circumvented by a number of online servers that live streamed footage to fans' screens for free or at a much reduced price. Such servers were operating in wholesale breach of both the promoter's and the broadcaster's intellectual property rights.
After the promoter launched proceedings, the Court issued an injunction requiring the six main UK Internet service providers (ISPs) to take measures to block, or at least impede, their customers' access to infringing servers during matches. The exact means by which that objective will be achieved was kept confidential in order to discourage counter-measures.
The order, which is to last for two years, provides for close monitoring of streaming websites in the seven-day period prior to each match. The promoter is required to notify the ISPs of any relevant match at least four weeks in advance. The Court had previously made similar orders in respect of football matches that had achieved considerable success in preventing illicit streaming.
In ruling that the injunction was proportionate, the Court noted that steps would be taken to ensure that free access to the Internet would be blocked only so far as necessary. The order created no barriers to legitimate trade and, to the extent that it would interfere with Internet access, it was justified by the legitimate aim of preventing large-scale infringement of the promoter's and the broadcaster's rights.